With focus on Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I recall my meetings and interview with his close aide, Captain Lakshmi Sahgal. This was in the summer of 2002 when she was named by the Left as its candidate to contest for the post of President of India. She was then around 88 years but looked much younger and fit. One of the reasons for this could be she was busy the entire day. She was vice-president of the All-India Democratic Women’s Association. And as a trained medical doctor/ gynaecologist, she was busy treating patients all through the mornings.
Evenings and afternoons she spent doing charitable work in Kanpur’s industrial areas. To the ‘why’ she had decided to settle down in Kanpur, she went ahead telling me details to the turns in her life. The daughter of activist Ammu Swaminathan and criminal lawyer S. Swaminathan, she completed her medical education in Madras before leaving for Singapore. That is where she met Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in 1943. And that changed the entire course of her life. She quit her job, joined the Indian National Army, and she was captured and jailed in Burma.
After she was released, she married Prem Sahgal who was then working in the New Victoria Mills (Kanpur). And with that came a complete change in her life. Settling down in Kanpur, running a charitable clinic, looking after the industrial workers, mazdoors and their families. In fact, till the very end she was reaching out to all those who needed medical assistance and support.
During the course of the interview, I asked her to comment on the prevailing situation in the country and how Netaji would have reacted if he was amongst us. And she told me that he couldn’t have visualized we would be in this condition. She’d added, “he was totally against the Partition… dead against it. He was sure it would mean doom and would lead to further partitions. He had made his views very clear to Pandit Nehru and also to Mahatma Gandhi. But none of us would have ever imagined that we would be reduced to this mess where the poor have become poorer, and communalism and corruption have become rampant…looking at the terrible conditions prevailing in the country today, I can only say it is very unfortunate.”
She had also commented on the plight of the mill workers and mazdoors and also on the condition of women — “The new economic policy has been a tremendous setback for the women of this country. With the closure of mills they are moving towards the unorganized sector, where they are the last to be hired and the first to be fired. One can see the steady decay all around. Obviously, all this will affect women. I really feel the middle-class stops sitting mute and starts reacting to the happenings around. Netaji really believed that women must be given full empowerment and that would be the only solution.’
♦ ♦ ♦
FOR MY FARMERS!
I wish I was a poet; with that, could have unleashed my anguish and anger in verse. Alas, I’m not a poet. A writer, witnessing the traumatic build-ups … a helpless spectator to the disasters unfolding.
There seems no end to the plight of the farmers. Provoking one to quip: are we living in the Raja or Raj days where our very own people have been kept cut off, as though near forbidden from entering the capital city of their very own country!
Those shots of the barricades and blockades on the Delhi borders relay the extent to which the State can go, to put up an authoritarian front. Bizarre it seems that instead of holding talks with the farmers, here we go and put a stop to the basics needed for their survival — water, connectivity, electricity, transportation, food. Stoppage or halt of everything save the air, which anyway is poisonous and polluted!
In this atmosphere even the fence- sitters are no longer sitting atop those fences. They are trying to jump off, extremely worried and apprehensive their turn to be targeted is sure to come by. After all, there’s no lessening of individuals and communities getting targeted, by the fascist forces. At first ‘they’ came for the Muslims, then for the Dalits and the Tribal and Adivasi. And then came the turn of the liberals, and all those students, activists and academics who raised their voice. Not spared even the earnest upright journalists who did not go by the sarkaripress handouts and briefings. Now, of course, the latest to be targeted are the farmers! Yes, the farmers who feed us, day after day, are treated in this inhuman manner!
♦ ♦ ♦
ON TALAT MAHMOOD’S UPCOMING BIRTH ANNIVERSARY- 24 February
The legendary singer with that beautiful voice with a melancholic strain to it, Talat Mahmood, was one of those Indians did not want to shift to the newly carved country, Pakistan. His father, Manzoor Mahmood, owned an electric fittings cum a gramophone shop in Lucknow, and he was known for singing Iqbal’s popular taranaa, ‘Chino Arab hamara/ Hindoostan hamara …’at the Muslim League functions. At the time of the Partition, Talat was in Calcutta with his elder sister. And though his entire family migrated to Pakistan, he and his sister opted to stay back in India.
Mind you, this decision to be away from the family did affect him .As his niece, Rafia Hussain, had told me, “Temperamentally he could not adjust to the ways of the film world. Also, that initial shock that his entire family had migrated to a new country and would be settling down there, had affected him to a certain extent …he was far too sensitive, he’d internalized that pain. But till the very end he was sure that he would never leave his home country. After all, he opted to stay back.”
♦ ♦ ♦
On Faiz Ahmad Faiz 110th birth anniversary — he was born on 13 February 1911
I could write an essay on Faiz Ahmad Faiz, as I did get to meet him on several occasions, in the late 70s, when he would travel down to Chandigarh to meet his friends and fans. Don’t overlook the vital fact that those were the good old days when political hawks didn’t intrude into our lives and everyday living. There were none of the security phobias that today’s ruling lot suffers from. There were none of those communal taunts and threats flung at the citizens of this country.
I’d met Faiz sahib at the various get-togethers and mushairas held in his honour, in the homes of civil servants and poets and academics…From 1976 till about 1980, I was residing in Chandigarh and we had also invited Faiz sahib home for dinner. He came across as not just unassuming but soft spoken and gentle. Nah, none of the airs and sans attitude. My only regret is I should have done a book on him, as his conversations carried so much. I very young then; perhaps didn’t quite realize the genius to him. Anyway, its one of those regrets I will carry all my life …
Leaving you with this verse of Faiz sahib. These lines apt for the imprisoned, officially and un-officially-
Wearing the hangman’s noose, like a necklace,
The singers kept on singing day and night,
kept jingling the ankle- bells of their fetters
and the dancers jigged on riotously.
We who were neither in this camp nor that
just stood watching them enviously.
shedding silent tears.
Returning, we saw that the crimson
of flowers had turned pale
and on probing within, it seemed
that where the heart once was
now lingered only stabbing pain.
Around our necks the hallucination of a noose
And on our feet the dance of fetters.”
♦ ♦ ♦
With news coming in of the political upheavals taking place in Myanmar, I have been thinking of the last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar (1775-1862) …after all, he lies buried in Rangoon.
Whilst on Bahadur Shah Zafar, lets not overlook the poetic genius to him.
Read his verse, which he wrote for the country he loved and died for …
“Ode to Hindustan/
Matchless is the soil of Hindustan/
In it grow love, compassion, fidelity/
As sure as the sun rises from the East/
So surges from this land sincerity./
This is the true seed of Hind and from its earth/
These fruits have spread across the world, far and wide.”